Legendary Prof. N.R. Kamath and chair instituted in his memory
Contributed by Dr. K. S. Murthy (Pidilite Industries Ltd)
Address by the Director Prof D.V.Khakkar; Winds of change in chemical engineering – NRK's vision and its relevance today; Reminiscences; Proposed NRK Chair Professorship for institutional excellence with corpus (legacy fund) of Rupees 6 crores to be raised with donations/pledges by alumni batches (1962-75) and Guru Vandana music concert by Dr.Arun Dravid formed the highlights.
“THE best higher education is a model and a source for creating a modern civil society. This is an ideal not often realised but is nevertheless a standard against which to measure national systems.” - World Bank Task Force Report: Why IITs are important to the nation? The Guru, the dispeller of darkness occupies an exalted growth in Indian philosophy. A Guru awakens, enlightens, guides and touches the lives of his disciples and shows them the right path. The chemical engineering profession and teaching in India is blessed and touched of an illustrious guru Prof N.R.Kamath. The students and admirers saluted the iconic hero on his birth centenary. He was a dynamic teacher with his favourite subjects being polymer chemistry and material science. Gurus such as NRK help shape great institutions and bless the individuals in it with the priceless and sublimed gift of knowledge that sustains several generations. Thanks to Prof N.R.Kamath for his priceless gift of knowledge and pioneering mentorship. He will always live forever live in our hearts.
“What matters in life is not what happens to you, but what you remember and how you remember it” Nobel Laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Thousands of students who studied under the iconic doyen late Prof N.R.Kamath and hundreds of faculty members and scores of industrialists, who came in association, remember him fondly with reverence and pride his human qualities, anecdotes and his vision as a brilliant teacher and astute administrator. His spirit lives on and the knowledge he imparted to his students is being used and spread in a manner worthy of him as their teacher.
It was befitting that the centenary day function was organised on 6th September 2014 in Victor Menezes Convention Centre auditorium at IIT-Bombay as a tribute to this multi-faceted personality and the impact he had on the chemical engineering profession, careers and lives of his students. The program commenced with floral tribute to the portrait of Prof Kamath thereafter Mr.Arun Nayak, young descendant of NRK family cut the cake to commemorate centenary day celebration. Prof S.L.Narayanamurthy anchored the proceedings. Excerpts:
Address by Prof D.V.Khakkar, Director said that NRK was a prominent faculty member of IIT-B and had larger than life presence. He moved from UDCT to IIT-B and founder of chemical engineering department and remained Head of the Department for 14 years until he retired which was something unique in the institute. During that period he made a big impact, department architecture, set up many labs and technology areas, was instrumental in recruitment of faculty and gave initial impetus to the growth of chemical engineering department with his experience and focus on technology. He was also Deputy Director for 3 years, an outstanding teacher and admired by his students and many of whom joined the faculty.
He read the citation presented by the students with admiration on his 60th birthday. “Sir you have not only been our academic teacher but you have enlightened us in many facets of life. You have not only moulded our intellectual personality, which has opened up excellent career opportunities but also moulded our cultural personality, which has generated interest and faith in higher values of life. We can hardly adequately express in words our sincere natural reverence and deep regards we have for you.” 40 years later this centenary celebration is organised by some of his students led by Mr.Deepak Himatsingka and others. As part of this effort, alumni have also decided to institute a chair in Prof Kamath's name.
About department and institute: The department has grown to a fine department of chemical engineering, broad based and new areas have been adopted e.g. bio- chemical engineering has become an important area besides material science, nanotechnology etc. Young faculty have joined in a wide range of areas active in research and interacting with industry. Today there are 9000 students in the institute and movement towards post graduate (2500 for PhD) education and research. Funding from external sources is about 200 crores. Mechanical engineering department has a national centre for aerospace innovation and research funded by DST to develop an ecosystem for manufacture of aerospace components besides others in terms of research and education. He concluded that NRK had made significant and lasting contribution to the department of chemical engineering and to IIT-B and the department organised this seminar in his memory to commemorate centenary for he was renowned as teacher, technologist and administrator par excellence.
Dr.S.Rama Iyer read the citation covering Prof NRK, presented by students and admirers to Mrs.Nayak who received it on behalf of the family. “Narayan Rangappa Kamath was born on September 8, 1914 at Murki, Karnataka state. He completed his earlier education in Mangalore and after passing S.S.L.C. examination in 1930 with high credit, moved to St.Xavier College, Mumbai for B.Sc course in 1934 with unique distinction of securing 100% marks in chemistry, a record unequalled in Mumbai University. Later on he completed B.Sc (Tech) degree in first batch in chemical engineering and Textile chemistry from UDCT (now ICT). He then went to UK and joined University College London, where he completed PG Diploma course in chemical engineering, later on return to India joined UDCT in 1946 and organised research activities for polymers and allied products. In the year 1958, he joined the post as professor and head of chemical engineering department of IIT-B which he held till his retirement on 30th September 1974. He also served with distinction as Deputy Director during the formative years of the institute. During his great career under him several students completed their Master and Doctorates degrees and post retirement years he guided industry in the capacity as a consultant. Prof Kamath was a teacher, professor par excellence and students of IIT-B held him in very high esteem for his contribution to education and research in chemistry and for his inspiring leadership”.
In recognition of his contribution to academia and industry and in his honour, the students of IIT-B (1962- 1975 batches) had decided to set up a chair professorship of institutional excellence. It is expected that the initiative will be an important catalyst to make IIT-B a world class university in the years to come. They invite ex- students and industry assistance in way of his remembrance of his memory on the occasion of his birth centenary on 8th September 2014. The cell of IIT-B and chemical engineering department has put together a film on late Prof NRK that was screened to present his biography and sharing of memories of Prof M.M.Sharma, Prof K.P.Mahadevan, Dr.Arun Dravid, Dr.S.G.Bhat et al.
Winds of change in chemical engineering – NRK's vision of its relevance today: The session focussed on academic and industrial scene and Prof Kamath's role in laying the foundation for such transformation to occur. Some speakers shared their views and thoughts.
Mr. Sharu Ranganekar a chemical engineer and management consultant contemporary to NRK. How do we get knowledge? ¼th by faculty, ¼th by yourself, ¼th by surroundings and balance ¼th by your fellow students. Out of several gurus one goes through, one would remember a few who leave a mark or impression, their inspiration remains with you. Highest marks do not make knowledge, or understanding. NRK infected his students with attraction and that's why we are sitting here, he observed.
Prof A.P.Kudchadkar, Professor Emeritus: NRK would have been happy to see phenomenal and multidirectional growth of the institute, unrecognisable research areas and involvement of the industry. Students today are much more different and constantly require mental stimulation, therefore a 55 minute lecture as delivered in the past will not do but NRK was adept at making the lecture interesting and exciting.
Chemical Engineering research has changed with growing importance of biological system engineering; Energy and environment; Materials engineering: Process system engineering; Reactor engineering; Transport phenomenon and complex fluids. 1978 - Chemistry department; 1982 - paradigm shift in education and learning, new things came up. He perceived that in 2014, Prof NRK would have no difficulty at all in dealing with changes. 20% of graduates and post graduates are entrepreneurs. He concluded that NRK initiated the entire thinking process technology as focus; research is global while technology is local.
Prof M.M.Sharma, former Director of ICT: Teachers are behind the business of knowledge. Speaking on dynamism in the field of chemical engineering and rapid change in the chemical industry, he stated that the half life of a chemical engineer is not more than 5 years. Continuous reading and changing the type of research is necessary, to be up to date. Teaching subjects like multi component distillation has undergone fundamental change and the calculations can be done quickly today. Nobody knew how nano treatment would become commercialised. In drying, fluidised bed drying was not known. Renewable materials like shellac and cashewnut shell liquid (CNSL) in which NRK had interest, are back. After a lapse of so many years for sustainability, everybody now talks about sustainable development. Innumerable number of papers are published on important items like lignin and bagasse and NRK could have looked into.
Nano has become important like nano- pigment. Platinum and Rhodium used to be 5%, he could reduce Platinum loading in many processes down to 0.2% because it would deposit on a nano-pigment. In the case of gold it would function only if it is nano. His interest in paints and how pigments can change and inorganic pigments based on heavy metals such as cadmium and lead have now become taboo and being replaced by lanthanum and cerium in view of safety. Organic pigments also evolved considerably with new types like Diketopyrrolopyrrole (DPP), unheard of in NRK's time, keep on changing radically gaining significance. Core paint technology and workability has changed radically.
Catalysis interested NRK much. Membrane separation was not heard of then but has made great impact on society converting sea water to fresh water. We are now able to do nano filtration of molecules with molecular weight greater than 250 and today commercially available membranes allow separation with dramatic effects in the pharmaceuticals and agrochemical industry.
NRK had great interest in polymers and making them for renewable raw materials. During his time fluidised bed reactors for polymerisation was not known to make LLDPE, HDPE and polypropylene. It happened when he relinquished his position in IIT-B and Union Carbide talked about fluidised bed reactors. Polymers have undergone dramatic change. Nylon, aromatic polyamide which has a reinforced material is a discovery driven product. In NRK speaking on polymer chemistry, there was hardly any emphasis on emulsion polymers and today they rule the roost. No one thought that polyester resin going to make model which would make mineral water availability for the society.
We have to keep upgrading and upto date. From engineering point of view, several changes have occurred with empiricism making way to astute scale-up. There were no terminologies like CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) that are being used extensively today. Nobody used bubble column reactor at that time and there are large scale applications, which one didn't find mention in literature earlier. There is a reemphasis on chemistry, a hallmark of NRK, and he looked to various aspects of chemical technology to be used in industry, which can be seen in full swing today and deep rooted. Even vocabulary of chemical engineers in countries like UK has changed as they talk more chemistry. Specialisation is required and the other radical change that came was the fierce entry of biotechnology, which by the time NRK left IIT-B was beginning to make an impact and today to have a core course in biochemical science. Prof M.M.Sharma concluded that chemical engineering always keeps changing and evolving or embracing disciplines seamlessly and emerges stronger.
Mr.R.Parthsarathy, Managing Director, Thirumalai Chemicals: He advised that the German model of education wherein students work in vocational discipline for a couple of years before going to university may be followed. Chemical engineering with orientation of mathematics or technology and as a plant operator himself he appreciated understanding of plant operation and when they design something they understood what they were doing even when no computers were around. Synergy of technology with engineering is needed in a way that is useful for both. When they had problems in design e.g. heat exchangers, chemical engineers coming out of college had no clue about operation. They could only think in terms of design and drawing and could not solve the problem.
He concluded that students are trained on the theoretical side of chemical engineering and we need to question the relevance of this teaching and the basic research being done is dissociated from the requirements of the industry.
Dr.Arun Dravid, Chairman Emeritus, Jacobs Engineering India Pvt. Ltd: Future challenges for chemical engineers with focus on fundamental and materials for the future. The challenges in these two areas have a generic connection with the vision Prof NRK had during his lifetime. IIT or ICT or any other institutions are in fact fertile ground for an engineer to be eventually going to the plant and operation. He lamented on the educational system and mindset of the young students.
Focus on fundamentals: we have come a long way from slide rule to PC, laptop and IPads. It is time to learn and digest fundamentals. We find today in a world SPECIAL REPORT infested by intense pace of innovation in IT, during undergraduate education, they are beginning to lose their basic understanding and focus into the physics of what is going on.
Examples: energy and equilibrium, rate process, momentum energy and mass transfer etc. are standard things which are expected to learn during undergraduation. Are we training or educating young boys and girls to become robots who solve engineering problems without understanding what goes into the physics? Do they understand the interaction of energy and work and how it relates to behaviour? He never understood why in Joule expansion, the gas doesn't cool unlike Joule-Thompson expansion. The others are concept of equilibrium, control behaviour of heterogeneous system, meaning of free energy, minimising it to find equilibrium, entropy, why one molecule preferentially tries to escape into vapour compared to the other etc. Discussion across the table is brain warming and thought provoking process. Challenge to the academic faculty is to drive students to fundamental thinking to convert robots into thinkers.
Engineering judgement – the art of making smart assumptions in the realm of the unknown. The art of setting up boundary and initial conditions; vision of identifying likely independent variables and setting up generating function; dimensional analysis; evolving relationship to predict solution and to get a feel of the order of the magnitude of the answer. The objective was to hone the skills of chemical engineers in education and in the area of the unknown. NRK's forte was polymeric materials in his entire life, from celluloid to high performance polymers.
Challenges constantly evolving are manmade organ transplant; novel drug delivery system using a permeable membrane; low weight high strength materials for offshore oil production and processing; automobiles and aircraft; evolving modern materials for construction; miniaturisation of electronic gadgets; storage batteries for solar power (biomass electro reactive liquid which will accept solar energy, store and then send it to a generating plant where it can convert into battery) against conventional solar energy which is extremely expensive and capital intensive. Materials revolution involving biopolymers compatible with human organs, non homogenic membrane, custom made permeability for membranes, nano materials, high temperature abrasion resistant ceramics and high performance engineering plastics.
Dr.Dravid concluded that NRK would have been delighted to see what is happening to materials sector today and had a vision that chemical engineers are better engineers than any other branch because they are able to take a holistic approach to emerging disciplinary problem.
Mr.Rajeev M Pandia, Former Managing Director, SI Group: Indian chemical industries – looking back (1974-2014) dealt with structural changes that took place in chemical industry and secondly looking ahead (global positioning) with the advent of productivity. A Snapshot of chemical industry
The major changes in chemical industry of 1974 were scale of operations. Refineries, steam crackers, soda ash and caustic soda.
Complexity – refining, cracker integration and product state captive infrastructure; Globalisation – tariff or import duty at 130% eventually came down to global level to become competitive, manufacturing presence abroad; global thinking;
Competitiveness - driven by economic reforms (1991-92), chemical industry subject to cycle, which led to operational excellence with global benchmarking, significant stakeholder expectations, significant developments in process revolution – mercury free caustic soda production, propane dehydrogenation, hydrogen peroxide based propylene oxide production, citric acid from sugarcane molasses, acetic acid from methanol etc;
Depth and breadth - we have synthesised new molecules like polypropylene, ABS, PTA, caprolactum, ACN, PBR, EPDM, wider range of specialty and fine chemicals; 3rd in Asia in terms of volume, our global position is 12; improvement and upgradation in R&D sector and IPR in the world trade, DSIR approved laboratories, shop floor innovation, chemical engineering graduates with research as career, long way to go in R&D, catalysis, new processes and biotechnology;
Sustainability - no conference is complete without a talk on it, laws and norms have become stringent for compliance, programs like Responsible Care administered by Indian Chemical Council for safety and environment.
Global conventions India signatory to Rotterdam; Feed stocks viz. alcohol; switch over from naphtha to natural gas for petrochemicals and fertilisers; Technology – multicomponent distillation, heat exchanger design, 3D models; Chemical parks – integrated complexes, PCPIRs; theme parks (pharmaceuticals and petrochemicals); Entrepreneurship standards (ISO and RC); Financial landscape has changed, funding is by private enterprise and venture capital, active capital market; green chemistry is another major change.
Second part of Mr.Pandia's talk comprised looking ahead (global position) for productivity:
Men (high calibre people and package of competitive compensation); Money (Highest, exchange fluctuation and high inflation to be addressed); Machinery (not only competitive, but have wide spectrum of shops to fabricate complex ones of international quality), not professional enough in keeping commitment like China and Korea; Materials (do not have enough of oil, gas, coal quality, competitiveness could arise from renewable resources; Management (strong background of managing uncertainties and diversities), Indian managers have best traits in the world; Markets (demographic age profile, strong middle class, marketing skills and aspiration); Motive power (low cost power available at international benchmark with high level of reliability and availability); Manufacturing methods and technology (low R&D spend, very few novel world class processes); Movement - logistics (very poor infrastructure in the country); Mission- road map like China and Singapore model (current needs to follow); Modernisation (old plants need complete revamping in terms of hardware and technology); Motivation - how to motivate chemical engineers (today we are 1/5th of world's population, about 17%, our chemical industry is 3% which should increase to 6% in 10 years by formulating National Chemical Policy Target. Mr.Pandia concluded with the targets, which are reminders to the chemical engineers and the long task ahead of them, which can be profitably done.
Mr.Pradeep Jaipuria, Managing Diector, PJ Margo Private Ltd: as an operator of plant the situation has to be fixed on the spot without waiting but the new breed of chemical engineers do not have the feel of what is physically happening in the plant, Mathematics is important but not as much as understanding the physical aspects. NRK used to talk about 3Ts and 3Ws and observed the difference between Technologist, Technician and Tradesman. The Tradesman would know what to do, Technician when to do it and Technologist would know why that has been done. Thinking 'Why' of things, things would be much better in terms of getting into and working into one's profession at a later date. As a businessman with chemical engineering background, he related some instances as he went along his career how this “Why” could help him. As a starter of business in early 70s, one has to start as small scale or something like import substitution of chemicals and identify market and technology. At that time he identified a product from one of the NRDC labs. Question is how the lab was going to transfer technology and the answer for the extent of technology was 3 runs on pilot plant scale of a batch of a particular size (60 kgs). They refused and he backed out. In the hindsight, backing out was the wisest decision as later another dyestuff company found it more trying for time taken to sort out the problems and stabilise.
This was a clear example of the type of learning NRK inculcated in them viz. question to ask, to get the bottom fixed, before accepting and moving forward. Yet another was turn around and fine tune the direction but never give you the complete answer. Eventually, he got into another aspect and started manufacturing alkaloids (synthetic chemistry) in 1973 by investing borrowed money and unaware about selling prospects since there was a synthetic product available at 1/3rd price. NRK remarked we all learn at IIT to take up the challenge, when you are looking at alkaloids, you are looking at extraction technology and you make further use. India was going to be very soon oil short and the process was similar to solvent extraction of vegetable. NRK believed one should fine tune the right direction and then proceeded and the rest is up to us to work after what we are doing. This was the tip he got at the right time as support pointing the right direction. Although frustrated about his situation, he could make a career for himself with this exposure.
Mr.Jaipuria concluded that NRK used to talk about how to manage the environment. Manage the environment within the equipment so that the process can be carried out as it is supposed to. Second is to manage external management so that you are not a nuisance to people around. He used to impart these phenomenal learning in his own way. He would not get into hard core chemical engineering but would paint a broader picture and focus on your mind what was important, which would help you pursue your career in an appropriate manner.
Dipak Himatsingka, Prof N.R.Kamath Chair Professorship Legacy Project/IIT-B Class of 1962-75: Gathered to celebrate 100th birth anniversary of NRK who had profound influence on his students both at UDCT (presently ICT) and IIT-B. The students always bow their heads in respectful homage to their Guru. Mr. Himatsingka earnestly appealed to the academia and industry in India and abroad to contribute generously to Professor N.R.Kamath endowment fund which has been set up at IIT-B pioneered by batches of 1962-75 and administered by IIT with the help of IIT-B Alumnus Association. Against a targeted a corpus of Rs.6 crores, they were able to collect Rs 65 lakhs in cash and approximately 1.5 crores by cheques besides singular contribution of Rs.1 crore by Narottam Sekhsaria of Gujarat Ambuja Cement.
Reminiscences: The talks epitomised the privilege of being students of NRK who continue to remember him, those who came under his influence in some way or other expressed their reminiscences. The speakers were Prof S.P.Sukhatme, Prof S.L.Narayanamurthy, Dr.S.G.Bhat; J.R.Shah, Dr.(Mrs.) Devaki Sastry, C.KMittal, Arun Joshi, Mr.Nayak, Mrs Usha Nayak et al.